(I’m doing the autobiographical water chapters all out of order. This is 5 or 6.)
We moved from West Point to Buffalo, NY between my Sophomore and Junior years in high school. I finished out my last two years at Calasanctius School for the Gifted. It was tiny, run by Hungarian Piarist priests, and full of brilliant misfits. My graduating class had eight people in it.
There were many amazing things about Calasanctius, including a tradition of reading and discussing original texts which served me well later at the University of Chicago. Another was the field trips. These weren’t a simple day trip to the museum. No. These were week-long sojourns with long stints in the one bus that belonged to the school, punctuated by overnights in campgrounds in the middle of nowhere.
This resulted in many formative, unsupervised moments that make me cringe as a parent, in retrospect.
We were at one of those campgrounds somewhat late in the season. There was a lake, out of sight of our tents, over a slope. There were no docks or boats, at least not then, and it was too cold for swimming.
That didn’t stop me, though, and I was determined to go in. The boy and girl I was with were not so enthusiastic. The boy, averting his eyes, set about making a campfire. The girl happened to be wearing shorts and waded in with me, whereas I stripped down to my underwear and jumped right in.
Okay, it was a little too cold, and it didn’t get deep for a long way. I persisted, though, staggering my way carefully over slippery rocks. It was some distance from shore when it was finally deep enough I could crouch in the brisk water and count myself as actually /in/ the lake.
It was rather more cold and uncomfortable than I had imagined when I had decided to make my way out there. I was just considering the treacherous walk back when the catcalling started from the other side of this, the narrow end of the lake. I couldn’t see who was yelling, since there were trees right up to the edge of the water, and I had taken my glasses off, but I could very clearly hear the suggestion that I perform a certain lewd act upon the speaker, and recognized the voice of a fellow student who was in the year above me (one who had been described by another student, a female friend, as a walking hard-on). There was chuckling, in several voices. He wasn’t alone.
I suppose I should have felt embarrassed, or threatened, or excruciatingly vulnerable in that moment, blind, cold, unclothed. Young. Female.
But I didn’t. And rather than duck back into the frigid water, or try to cover myself, or dash myself against the slick rocks in an attempt to flee, I stood there and shouted back, “What?” still unable to see where the speaker was.
The lewd suggestion was repeated, louder.
I shook my head as if confused and yelled back, “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you.”
He repeated it again, louder, sounding frustrated, incredulous.
I put my hand up to my ear as if listening hard and said, “Still not sure what you said.”
He screamed it, his voice cracking finally, and I could hear his cohorts laughing at him out loud now. It was obvious to them I heard him just fine the first time.
I shrugged and shook my head. There was muffled cursing and laughing as the group of boys moved away, and I went, calmly and carefully, back to my own group at the waiting campfire on my side of the lake.
It was uncomfortable, trying to pull my clothes over wet, clammy skin, and the campfire wasn’t really fiery enough to provide much heat, so I sat there blue and chattering.
But that was okay.
I was warmed by an inner sense of justice served.
In this modern age, there would be a digital record of the event, no doubt uploaded onto the internet before I even stepped out of the lake, and it might have haunted me through the rest of high school in a very different way. But there was no video. No record but this one.
And nobody ever brought it up with me after, either.
I like to think they were prevented by a new-found fear of watery tarts.